From debuting New Jersey film-maker Daniel Patrick Corbone comes this well-regarded, multi-award-winning coming-of-age movie. Don't expect the rosy hues of American Graffiti or Goonies-brand adventures. Hide Your Smiling Faces is characterised by stillness, the hum of electricity and drifting summer months. It may seem familiar to anyone who has viewed David Gordon Green's George Washington, Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill or anything by Terrence Malick, but it has a sneaking drama and dread of its own.
As the film opens, a snake devours its slimy prey. It’s an unsanitary and dangerous world for three small-town kids, including nine-year-old Tommy (Ryan Jones) and his older brother Eric (Nathan Vamson), whom we meet exploring an abandoned house in the woods. Finding a dead crow to play with they add their own sound effects as they fly the avian corpse around the room.
But death is about to take on a different complexion. When Eric discovers the body of Tommy’s friend Ian (Ian Tomic), there are many questions. Did the misfit boy fall from the bridge or did he jump? Might his bullying Irish father (Colm O’Leary) be to blame? What does it feel like to die, anyway?
The brothers respond differently to the tragedy. Tommy becomes more cautious; Eric becomes a jerk. Playful impromptu wrestling sessions between various local boys take on sinister, violent dimensions. Two powerful, mirrored scenes of casual swimming lessons serve to summarise the siblings’ divergent distress.
As in all memorable cinematic Bildungsroman, including last year's The Kings of Summer, parents barely register in this heavily forested world, until a powerful denouement reintroduces Ian's father.
Nick Bentgen’s cinematography, Robert Donne’s quietly evocative score and Chris Foster’s sound design obscure the project’s relatively small budget. And Jones, Vamson, O’Leary and Tomic make for one of this year’s best ensembles.